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Video of PJ Kurien translating Rahul Gandhi goes viral: Ridiculing ex-RS deputy chairman done in bad taste, betrays insensitivity

When Rahul Gandhi campaigned in Kerala recently, what stood out was the massive turn out, the instant connect that the Congress chief had with the people, his speeches that solely focussed on the BJP, and what a Congress-led government would do for the people. As promised, he stayed away from speaking against the CPM, his party’s bete noire in Kerala.

But what went viral on the social media was none of these, but a bad a translation of his speech at Pathanamthitta by an old Congress leader who was struggling to catch up with him. The translator was PJ Kurien, former Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha, former Union Minister and a veteran parliamentarian who had been elected to the Lok Sabha six times and Rajya Sabha once. His performance was indeed tragic and it literally killed Rahul's speech. Rahul appeared helpless, wanted him changed, but still reconciled with the circumstances and finished his speech graciously.

However, it immediately set off viral lampooning on Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp — not making fun of just Kurien, but also Rahul. Meme and troll factories made clips that made both of them look ridiculous. With superimposition of external sounds and repetition of expressions, it appeared worse than what it was. BJP-proxies, including some "well-respected" corporate leaders and even some ministers, shared the clip on social media clearly aimed at making fun of the ill-famous 'Pappu' and stealing the wind out of his wings.

Memes and trolls are fine as long as they are fun and aren’t manufactured, but here there were elements that were manufactured. And in the process what they (those who made them and people in public life who shared them to mock the Congress) overlooked was that they were probably ridiculing age-treated debilities of a person.

Kurien is a 78-year-old and, at the rally, he was unable to hear Rahul despite training his ears on him. For Kurien, who is of a certain age and the situation was made much worse by the huge din from the crowd, his repeated failures to get what Rahul was speaking made him probably nervous and led to those errors that indeed were serious. Had he not been a politician of a rival party, the lampooning would have been a cruel attack on a helpless old man. A man who is just two years short of 80.

The trolling was done in bad taste and did amount to making fun of disability. Exaggerating what happened on stage and making him look much worse than that was gross. Of course, there were a few who just had a good, innocent laugh sharing it and some even using the occasion to highlight how gracious Rahul was not to get annoyed with the repeated gaffes.

This kind of tasteless exaggeration, which essentially is manufactured footage (at least the humour is — thanks to the extra sounds and visual effects), is a contribution of the “political satire” churned out by Malayalam news channels. Every single channel has one such programme at prime time with unrelated video and audio — mostly borrowed from movies —  added to a real footage to make their point. Some of them are unethical, defamatory, and rights-violative, but probably because of the air of tolerance that the state currently has, most politicians don’t object.

Nobody clarified if it was Kurien’s over-eagerness or insecurity despite him being in public eye for so many years, to be seen with Rahul or if it was the negligence or incompetence of the Kerala unit of the Congress (KPCC) that led to such a disastrous end. Enquiries revealed that Kurien had to step in (nobody will say if he volunteered) because the star translator that the party had in mind — Jyothi Vijaykumar — didn't reach the venue on time.

 Video of PJ Kurien translating Rahul Gandhi goes viral: Ridiculing ex-RS deputy chairman done in bad taste, betrays insensitivity

Congress chief Rahul Gandhi with former Rajya Sabha deputy chairman PJ Kurien. Screenshot

She shone like a star earlier at Kollam and later in Thiruvananthapuram on the same day, but apparently, she was to reach Pathanamthitta by road. Instead of ensuring that such a critical task is taken care of first, the leaders of KPCC, clambered on to Rahul’s helicopter. A sensible thing would have been to ensure that the translator that worked best with Rahul travelled with him — not just in one constituency, but everywhere. In fact, other than in Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram, the speeches were less impactful because of poor translation.

What made Kurien, and even the local leaders who did the job at constituencies such as Alappuzha and Wayanad, look lifeless was the highly animated, perfectly modulated and precise translation by Jyothi, a Gandhi family regular. Reportedly she first made a mark on the job when she translated a Rahul speech in 2011 and a few times later. Reportedly she won accolades directly from Sonia Gandhi for translating her speech in 2016. Interestingly, whenever Jyothi was on the job, the impact was instant.

The KPCC leaders could have been less obsessed with themselves and thought about the logistics and gotten the best bang for their buck when their star campaigner was in the state. And the BJP and its proxies could have been more dignified in ridiculing an old man and his age-related debility.

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Updated Date: Apr 18, 2019 15:44:19 IST